Scarborough RUFC ended their six-game losing streak in thrilling fashion, coming from behind three times to complete a league double over high-flying Doncaster Phoenix to triumph 22-19 in a hugely entertaining game at Armthorpe Road.
Kicking off with the benefit of a blustery breeze behind them, the visitors took an early lead when fullback Tom Ratcliffe punished the south Yorkshiremen with a 25 metre penalty when they infringed in the second minute.
Undeterred, Phoenix came back strongly looking to run the ball at every opportunity and pinning Scarborough deep in their own half. It was no surprise therefore when a slick pass from fly-half Ben Miller released centre Craig Deakin to brush aside the attentions of the visiting defence to power over in the 10th minute. Miller added the extras for a 10-3 lead.
Phoenix took control and with open-side flanker Ryan Peacey and No8 Chris Planchant in great form they laid siege to the Scarborough line; a searing break by Peacey, supported by scrum half Tim Elliott looked like producing a second try but proceedings were halted by a forward pass. Doncaster then lost the services of Peacey, who hobbled off injured to a sigh of relief from the Seasiders as the big back row had caused them all sorts of problems.
Having missed a penalty in the 20th minute, Phoenix appeared to have scored two minutes later following a ruck.
However referee Garry Dixon spotted an infringement and awarded Scarborough a penalty; and whilst the Phoenix players were still celebrating their ‘try’, Ratcliffe took a quick tap and sprinted the length of the field to score then converted for a 10-7 Scarborough lead.
The seesaw nature of the game continued and although smarting from Scarborough’s opportunist score, Phoenix came straight back. A series of drives in the visitors 22 were defended but the ball was recycled to Miller two crossed for a well-worked try, adding the conversion to retake the lead at 14-10 in the 31st minute.
The turning point in the game may have come in the 34th minute when Scarborough’s Craig Farrell went down with what looked like a very serious leg injury.
The talismanic ex-rugby league centre hobbled off to be replaced by Jan Tieber and his teammates seemed to use his departure as a rallying call; wing Graeme Jeffrey saved a certain try with a timely interception then centre Benji Cottle almost made it to the line on the stroke of half-time; however the home defence held firm and they led 14-10 at the break.
The pulsating action continued after the interval with a sweeping move from their own line taking Scarborough up-field before wing Harry Domett was stopped short. Phoenix Lock Dan Smith was then tackled just short of the visitors’ line when he stole a defensive line-out in the 50th minute.
Scarborough snatched the lead back in the 56th minute when scrum-half Zybnec Schutz released Ratcliffe from a scrum just inside his own half; the big fullback broke a couple of tackles and released Cottle who sprinted into the Doncaster half, danced round a couple of despairing defenders to cross for 15-14. Ratcliffe missed the difficult conversion.
The breathless action continued unabated as wing Dan Greenslade sprinted over in the corner on the hour to retake the lead at 19-15. Miller failed to convert.
The game continued to ebb and flow but Scarborough looked determined not to go down for the seventh consecutive time and surging runs from back-rowers Chris Purdy, Charlie Hoggard and Matty Else took play deep into the home 22. With only around six minutes left on the clock, prop Nino Cutino drove to the line, recycled and Paul Taylor picked up and drove over. However Mr Dixon was unsighted and disallowed the prop’s effort, judging the ball ‘held up.’
Going into the final stages, Scarborough camped on the home line and under pressure Phoenix were penalised for hands in a ruck and then hands in a scrum. Mr Dixon warned that another similar offence would lead to a penalty try. From the following scrum the ball was moved infield and Ratcliffe joining the line, sidestepped centre Andy Ellis and touched down between the uprights. The big fullback converted for a 22-19 Scarborough lead with about a minute remaining.
With time running out Doncaster threw everything at the Seasiders who hung on tenaciously but conceded a penalty which was kicked for touch.
They then conceded another penalty at the resulting line-out and the ball was again kicked for touch. However lock Mikey Readman stole the ball from the Phoenix throw and Ratcliffe kicked it off the paddock for a much relieved Scarborough.